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Pictures
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Pictures from Folk Life, Op. 19 (1871) [15:14]
Selected Lyric Pieces: Butterfly, Op. 43 No. 1, To Spring, Op. 43 No. 6 (1886), March of the Trolls, Op. 54 No. 3, Bell Ringing, Op. 54 No. 6 (1891) [1:57, 3:05, 3:13, 4:31]
Harald SÆVERUD (1897-1992)
The Ballad of Revolt, Op. 22 No.5 (1943) [3:34]
David Monrad JOHANSEN (1888-1974)
Pictures from the North, Op. 5 (1919) [10:01]
Jesper KOCH (b. 1967)
The Mirror of the Mind (2007) [3:19]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) [30:53]
Edvard GRIEG
Cattle Call, Op. 17 No. 22 (1869) [1:20]
Pål Eide (piano)
rec. 2018, Edvard Grieg Museum Troldhaugen, Bergen
DANACORD DACOCD847 [78:11]

I have had the pleasure of visiting Edvard Grieg’s villa at Troldhaugen on two occasions. It is an experience that I shall never forget. The location, the views across the fjord, and the good vibes in the house itself, with the echoes of a cast of hundreds who visited Edvard and Nina over the years – it all adds to the magic. These guests included Fred Delius and Percy Grainger. The entire ‘museum’ is a little bit of heaven on earth. Excitingly, Greig’s 1892 Steinway is in the main reception room. It is roped off, with lid closed. I was certainly not allowed to bash my way through the opening bars of Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Precious few are, and rightly so! The talented Pål Eide is one of the lucky people who has been given permission to play the master’s piano, both in recital and recording.

A CD of music from Edvard Grieg’s villa at Troldhaugen without some of Grieg’s piano music would be like apple pie without cream. Pål Eide obliges with eight well-played pieces. The disc opens with the less popular Pictures from Folk Life (Folkelivsbilleder, Op. 19). The opening ‘Mountain Dance’ is full of powerful Norwegian folk rhythms. The original ‘Wedding Procession’ may have been witnessed by Grieg whilst out on a hiking holiday. The finale ‘From the Carnival’ is not Scandinavian. It evokes Rome, a city the composer often visited. I must admit that I did not really know these Pictures. It is good to be introduced to them with Pål Eide’s convincing account.

More popular pieces are included in the selection from Lyric Pieces. As the liner notes explain, these ten volumes of character pieces give a ‘wide perspective’ of Grieg’s life and work. Volume 1 was published in 1867 when the composer was 24 years old. The last appeared 34 year later in 1901. The pieces include the gossamer wings of the ‘Butterfly’, the evocative and almost impressionistic ‘To Spring’, the imaginative ‘March of the Trolls’ with its melancholy ‘trio’ section and finally the forward-looking ‘Bell Ringing’ with its provocative bare fifths.

Harald Sæverud’s The Ballad of Revolt was a wartime work written during 1943. It is a short but powerful protest against the German invasion of Norway, and an encouragement to the resistance movement. It was also arranged by the composer for orchestra.

I have not heard of David Monrad Johansen before, which is a definite pity. The style of his music is a subtle fusion of Norwegian folksong with French Impressionism. The present work, Pictures from the North, Op. 5 includes four miniatures which seem to fit this categorisation. The opening ‘Profile of a Woman’ is literally that: a musical description of a lady whom Johansen had known: she clearly had an interesting personality. ‘The Little Stone God’ was written after attending a revivalist evangelical prayer meeting in the north of Norway. A depressing event it must have been! ‘Reindeer’ is a vibrant piece recalling Johansen’s childhood. And finally, ‘Towards the Mountains of my Forefathers’ is a musical landscape, with the composer looking down at the family farm from a high hill. Here the Grieg-like folk element is at its strongest. All four pieces reflect Johansen’s deep study of Debussy but I guess he brings much of his own romantic nature and enjoyment of folk music to these pieces.

Jesper Koch’s short piece The Mirror of the Mind is a brittle and frosty evocation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. I would have liked it to have been longer, and to have developed more of the story. It was composed especially for Pål Eide.

The major work on this CD is Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. This is popular in the composer’s original version for piano solo, as well as in Maurice Ravel’s masterly transcription for orchestra. There are some 101 versions of the latter in the Arkiv CD catalogue (accessed 12 September 2019), compared to some 155 recordings of the piano version. Some of these are repackagings, but one gets the idea of the work’s status. The piece was composed in 1874. The concept of this cycle of sixteen movements or sections was an exhibition of paintings by the composer’s friend, the architect and painter Viktor Hartmann. The work contains musical descriptions of eleven of the artist’s paintings, loosely connected by an interlude (Promenade) intended to portray the visitor strolling around the gallery. One of the problems with any discussion of this work is that several of the original art works have disappeared.

‘Musical description’ in Pictures at an Exhibition is pervasive. There is the clumsiness of the ‘Gnomus,’ or dwarf, walking with uneven steps, the Troubadour singing his lugubrious serenade at the castle gate, and the dispute between two children playing in the Tuileries Garden. The lumbering oxcart is well-drawn. I have always enjoyed the imaginary but purely magical concept of the ‘Ballet of the Unhatched Chickens’. Equally vivacious, is the representation of the haggling market traders at Limoges. The ‘Catacombs of Paris’ are described with creepy chords that reflect light from the artists lantern on discovering a pile of skulls on the floor. The final painting, an architectural design, is the best-known. ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’ is replete of sounds of pealing bells, a grand civic march and chanting priests. It is fitting conclusion to a splendid cycle of musical sounds. It is amazing that Grieg’s Steinway is still in one piece after the thundering peroration of this music.

There is some debate as to the pianistic qualities of Pictures. Sometimes it seems that the what we are hearing is the ‘draft short score’ of an orchestral piece. Over the years there have been many attempts to provide just that, with Ravel’s winning the palm. Be that as it may, Pål Eide gives a splendidly authoritative performance here.

The mood returns to the peace and quiet of Norway’s pastures with the lovely miniature ‘Cattle Call’, from the Norwegian Folksong and Dances Op. 17. It recalls a song heard by the composer when walking in the hills. I agree with the liner notes that this makes an ideal encore after a powerful programme. It is a perfect miniature.

There is no doubt about Pål Eide’s imaginative and typically exiting playing. He was born in Bergen in 1970, although he now is based in Denmark. He studied at the Royal Danish Academy and the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. He debuted in Copenhagen during 1997, before having further studies with Jiri Hlinka in Norway. His first album, Grey Clouds included music by Liszt, Ravel, Debussy and Stravinsky.

Grieg’s Steinway sounds remarkably well for its age: a lot of time and effort must go into maintaining and tuning it to such a high standard. The liner notes are interesting, if not fulsome with analytical details of each work. Eide tells the tale of this recording with its trials and tribulations. It is a good story. I have used the titles of the Grieg pieces as given in the track listing: they may differ from other catalogues etc.

I enjoyed this album of music from Grieg’s summer villa. It is beautifully played, with the huge bonus of being performed on Grieg’s own piano. It makes me want to go back to Bergen and Troldhaugen as soon as possible. I wonder if the endearing hedgehog I saw last time I was there is still scampering about the composer’s gorgeous garden. She was a very lucky lady!
 
John France



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